The Dark Side of Performance Management
I love fall. My birthday is in October. And then there are the baseball playoffs and World Series! Fall is a great time of year. Fall is also full of the performance management evaluation horror stories from many of the firms in which I consult. These stories sadden and frustrate me. It would be different if the harsh practices in the name of performance actually brought heightened future performance but the truth is they don’t!
I was not going to write this posting until I heard one of the worst performance management stories ever. And I have heard some really bad ones! For instance, I once heard tell of a firing of a marketing director whose son had just be diagnosed with a terminal childhood illness two months before her yearly performance evaluation. The director was told that she was not performing her best since her son’s diagnosis even though she had met all of her yearly goals. This scenario occurred at a company which prides itself as a place where people and their connection matter, in fact that is their product.
But back to the story I was told first hand this week. A woman called me to find out how she could change roles within the company she works. This company is in the Fortune 50, one of the top Fortune’s Best Admired companies and one of Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For. The company still uses a forced curve for rewarding its employees and a methodology called a nine box grid. So each August and September thousands of employees globally are given the message that they are in the lowest 10% of the employee population. Or an employee could hear that they are within the 70% middle of the population. And then there are the 20% people who are told that they are within the high potential population. Some of you may believe that there is a natural bell curve to our employees. This is not a posting to debate that issue, although I do not subscribe to that theory. Even GE has stopped identifying the lowest of their 10% of managers.
Something to keep in mind about this particular company is that they have:
- Never defined what high potential, middle, or bottom 10% is
- Not been known for strong management or management practices
- Been losing top talent to other more creative and innovative companies with people friendly performance management processes
- A large percentage of VP, GM and director level leaders who know and have acknowledged that the current performance management practices are unfair and many times destructive
So back to my story. The woman I talked was has been battling Breast Cancer for the past three years. This year she was diagnosed with a reoccurrence. She once again went through dramatic and major surgery, lost all of her hair from the cancer treatments, and yet maintained a 70 to 80 hour work week – meeting and or exceeding all of her yearly goals. However, at performance management evaluation time she was told that she was in the bottom 10%.
I asked her why she would want to stay. I know that she feels that this company, through their benefits, saved her life. I admire her for a loyalty that is seldom seen these days! But, you know what; other more people friendly companies offer great benefits and appreciate heroic efforts by their employees. My bet is that soon this woman will find such a company and thrive!